U.S. retailers may lose almost $9 billion of holiday sales as banks rein in lending to cash-strapped consumers before a new credit card law takes effect.
Sales in November and December may fall 1.2%, to $436.7 billion, from a year earlier, said Britt Beemer, the chairman of the consumer polling firm America's Research Group.
Douglas Scovanner, Target Corp.'s chief financial officer, said the credit card measure is exacerbating a spending slump just as consumers begin to consider more discretionary purchases they would usually buy with credit..
"It will mute the impact of the rebound that would have otherwise occurred," Scovanner said. "Diminished availability of credit equals diminished spending."
Reduced lending may shave at least half a percentage point off sales at stores open at least a year once more of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act goes into effect in February, Scovanner said.
The act bans so-called universal default, the practice of raising interest rates based on a missed payment with another lender.
The rules are already causing lenders to "tighten up," said Brad Jolson, senior director for risk management solutions at Fair Isaac Corp.
Available credit to U.S. consumers through cards fell to $3.6 trillion this year from a peak of $4.7 trillion last year, according to a study released in July by TowerGroup, a financial research and advising firm in Needham, Mass.
The law will reduce lenders' flexibility to manage risk, said Peter Garuccio, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association. That leaves them the options of "not making cards available or doing so at higher prices," he said.
This year, 22% of the consumers surveyed by Beemer's Charleston, S.C., firm said they had credit card applications rejected, compared with 12% last year. More than 37% said their credit limits had been reduced in the past year. That means fewer sales of items such as appliances, Beemer said.